Q: We have a large salad bar at the work cafeteria that I would like to take advantage of for lunch (especially during the summer). I’m trying to lose weight and control blood sugar. Could you give me some tips on what to choose and what to steer clear on at the salad bar?
A: Salads are a great way to get in your daily fruit and vegetable intake. These foods and are wonderful sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients (plant chemicals that may do some powerful things like prevent cancer and reduce aging). However, there are some items on salad bars that can make a salad just as high in calories and fat as a trip to a fast food restaurant.
When putting it all together, think of the healthy plate – 1/4 of the plate protein, 1/4 of the plate carbohydrate (or starch), and the rest non-starchy vegetables.
When choosing your vegetables, go for brightly colored ones like spinach, carrots, peppers, broccoli, etc. The darker the vegetable – the more nutrition it has.
Add some protein like a hard-boiled egg, lean meat or reduced fat cheese.
Lastly add a couple of carbohydrates – like beans or fruit. If yogurt is an option, add that as a side.
You may have the option of adding things like rich cheeses, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives or croutons to your salad. Many of these are healthy items, but they are high in fat, so put no more than a total of 1-2 teaspoons of these items in your salad.
Most salad dressings are oil based. Oil is a fat, so eating these in moderation is best. At most salad bars, the types of dressings will be limited. If you want to keep calories very low, try these instead:
- lemon juice
- lime juice
- low-fat cottage cheese
- Red wine vinaigrette
If none of these seem appetizing to you, consider using a vinaigrette or low-fat, low-carbohydrate dressing.If no labels are around for you to know how many calories or fat are in the dressing, you can probably assume that 1 tablespoon of a “light” dressing has 45 calories and 5 grams of fat in it.
The high calorie, high fat dressings that you usually want to avoid or eat very small portions of are creamy dressings like Ranch or Caesar (these can contain around 14 grams of fat per tablespoon).
My personal favorite is a salad made with a bed of spinach, topped with egg, garbanzo beans, red onion, feta cheese, carrots, pepper, and maybe a few low-calorie croutons. All of the alternative salad dressings listed above I have tried and are surprisingly satisfactory. My top 2 favorites are cottage cheese and red wine vinaigrette depending on my mood.
Mandy Seay is a registered and licensed dietitian. She works as a nutrition consultant in Austin, Texas specializing in diabetes, weight loss, lipid control and preventative nutrition. For more health articles and nutrition information, check out Mandy’s website Nutritionistics.